Dementia has changed how Jim and I experience the Christmas season. Gone are the days of spending hours on activities we always enjoyed together, such as shopping for special family presents, putting up the outdoor decorations and attending lots of holiday gatherings. Christmas is definitely quieter now, but it’s still special – and often in surprising ways.
Dementia has changed how Jim and I experience the Christmas season.
For example, during the lead up to one recent Christmas I was having a hard time feeling the joy of the season. Jim and I had no plans for the big day. We would not be going to a family gathering. There would be no grandchildren around and no holiday getaway to a warm locale. Even my sister, our constant companion from Christmases past, would not be with us. I had visions of Jim and I eating hot dogs and beans on Dec. 25 as we watched a football game. As my disappointment grew, I resigned myself to the thought that not every Christmas could be a special Christmas.
Then my brother Tony called unexpectedly and asked if we would like to come to Atlanta to stay with him and his wife Jane for Christmas. It took me about two seconds to decide that this was a great idea. Yes, we would be going to Atlanta.
To my surprise, that Christmas turned out to be not only a better Christmas than I had anticipated, but it became one of the best Christmases we had ever had. And how did this happen? How did we go from having the worst Christmas to having the best Christmas? As I look back I realize that we simply were able to experience the real meaning of Christmas.
it became one of the best Christmases we had ever had
We waited until Christmas day to drive to Atlanta. There was little traffic, which made the trip easier for Jim, as we encountered no stressful situations on the road. When we got in the car, Jim sat in the back seat right behind me. I thought that was a bit odd, but Jim seemed to relax back there. We listened to Christmas music for the entire four–hour drive. Jim was so relaxed he started singing along where he could and patting my shoulder every 10 minutes or so. It was his way of saying he was happy and he loved me. As unlikely as it may sound, that long drive down Interstate 85 was truly joyous.
As I listened to the songs, I could feel the tears as I focused on the words and their meaning. It was truly a Psalms 37:4 moment: “Take delight in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” As we arrived in Atlanta, my heart was full. Christmas could have ended right there. Nothing else was needed.
But Christmas did not end here. We spent the next few days enjoying Tony and Jane’s hospitality, having lots of wonderful conversations and laughs, and sharing memories from past holidays. I also got some time alone to recharge as Tony and Jane stayed with Jim while I went on walks around their neighborhood. We all took things at a very slow pace and this allowed Jim to get comfortable with our new location and truly enjoy himself.
As we drove home on Saturday (another low traffic day) I thought about how incredibly wonderful this Christmas had been. It just confirmed what you always hear about “finding the real meaning of Christmas.” Gifts, parties and huge gatherings are nice, but they don’t bring you joy at Christmas. We had found our joy by focusing on God’s gift to man and spending time with a few loved ones. We didn’t need a crowd. We didn’t need a lot of activity. We didn’t need lots of gifts. All that we needed was to slow down, enjoy a few close relationships, and focus on what really matters – God’s goodness and never–ending provision in our lives. It was a Christmas I will never forget.
We had found our joy by focusing on God’s gift to man and spending time with a few loved ones.